Irish Examiner view: Brexit ratification is by no means the end of the matter

EU must continue to monitor and ensure that the British hold up their side of the bargain
Irish Examiner view: Brexit ratification is by no means the end of the matter

Boris Johnson and his government have shown, time and again, that they cannot be trusted.

It has taken four years, two British prime ministers, two European Commission presidents and various changes of EU governments but, at last, the final ratification of the Brexit withdrawal agreement is under way. The so-called ‘consent vote’ by the European Parliament means the treaty can be formally ratified by the European Union.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has welcomed the parliament’s approval of the post-Brexit trade deal, but warned that its faithful implementation was crucial. Several MEPs expressed concerns over whether the British government would stick to the Trade and Co-operation Agreement (TCA). Alongside the vote to approve the deal, the parliament passed a resolution condemning the UK’s “recent unilateral actions, in breach of the Withdrawal Agreement, to extend grace periods”.

Nevertheless, MEPs voted overwhelmingly to endorse the deal. It is little wonder that they did considering that, on the face of it, EU negotiators have achieved far more than their UK counterparts. Under the agreement, EU exports continue to have unfettered access to UK markets, while UK exporters now have limited access to EU markets and the Northern Ireland protocol introduces some barriers to intra-UK trade.

It is for these realities, as well as British negotiating tactics, that we should not consider this an end to acrimony between the UK and the EU. It marks a beginning more than an end. What matters now is that the EU continues to monitor and ensure that Britain holds up its side of the bargain. Boris Johnson and his government have repeatedly shown that they cannot be trusted. Indeed, the vote to approve the deal had to be postponed last month when it became clear that the Johnson administration was in the process of breaking international law for a second time over Northern Ireland.

On March 3, the UK was accused by the European Commission of breaking international law after the British government announced plans to unilaterally extend a grace period on a range of checks on trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The commission made it clear that, under the Brexit deal, the decision should have been agreed with the EU. The unilateral move by the British infuriated the Irish government, prompting legal action by the EU.

“The EU are negotiating with a partner they simply can’t trust,” Simon Coveney, the foreign affairs minister, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme, but yesterday he welcomed the vote.

So what has changed to allow for ratification? Christophe Hansen, a Luxembourg MEP and rapporteur for the Committee on International Trade, said the deal would help hold the Johnson government to its commitments.

“Ratification of the agreement is not a vote of blind confidence in the UK government’s intention to implement our agreements in good faith,” Mr Hansen said in a statement. “Rather, it is an EU insurance policy against further unilateral deviations from what was jointly agreed.”

Let us hope that does not turn out to be a wildly optimistic view of the future, considering tactics used in the past.

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